Mayor Erin Mendenhall’s fiscal 2024 budget includes funding to kick-start initiatives that protect the Great Salt Lake, help residents gain access to e-bikes and bring more affordable housing to Salt Lake City.
“We’re ambitious in our vision and confident in our budgeting,” Mendenhall said Tuesday night in a speech to the City Council. “We’ve weathered many storms, and we’ve emerged stronger than ever. I’m so happy to present this year’s budget proposal to you with great confidence in our 16 departments who do this work every single day.”
Mendenhall proposes a general fund budget of nearly $445 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1. The spending plan is about $19 million higher than this year — an increase the mayor attributes primarily to inflation.
In addition to funding the slate of Great Salt Lake protection strategies Mendenhall announced at her January State of the City address, the mayor’s budget proposes devoting resources to explore the creation of a “Great Salt Lake Shoreline Preserve.”
“While establishing such an area would be a multiyear endeavor,” she said, “our work through the Public Utilities and Community and Neighborhoods departments will explore what it would take to manage and protect more wetlands and more natural areas on the shores of the Great Salt Lake.”
Mendenhall said the idea was brought to her office by a collection of residents, advocates and scientists that included the Audubon Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Great Salt Lake, the Rudy Duck Club, and the Westpointe Community Council.
“I want to extend my deep gratitude to the community members who brought this idea forward to our city,” she said. “It’s this kind of creative thinking and committed partnerships that will help save our lake.”
To protect the city’s air quality, Mendenhall said her budget continues funding for student transit passes, expands the network of electric-vehicle charging stations, and extends a partnership with the state to swap out businesses’ gas-guzzling lawn equipment for electric alternatives
The mayor also announced the creation of an incentive program geared toward steering residents from tailpipes to pedals and helping more homeowners gain access to electric landscaping gear.
“It will empower our city’s residents to make small but powerful changes in their homes and in the way they commute that can add up to an improvement in our air quality and quality of life,” she said. “This could be battery-powered landscaping equipment to purchasing an e-bike. Our residents will have an easier route to access tools that make a direct impact on improving our local air quality through this new incentive program.”
Andrew Wittenberg, the mayor’s director of communications, said the program envisions offering rebates to residents who would rather plug in to fuel their commute or keep up with yardwork.
Affordable housing and homelessness
Mendenhall said the city has made strides in affordable housing investments, and she wants to press on with that work.
Her proposal includes a nearly $10 million affordable housing allocation that is split between new investments — which make up about $700,000 — and ongoing funding from the city and its Redevelopment Agency.
The spending would be in addition to the $10 million the council is considering as an amendment to this year’s budget for a housing program that would allow renters to build equity-type savings.
“I’ll say this again because it’s critical for everyone to understand that our commitment to lowering the cost of living in this capital city is real,” Mendenhall said. “Over the next month, you, as the City Council, will consider a combined $20 million in city-led affordable housing investment.”
While housing is critical to addressing homelessness, Mendenhall said, the city is a leader in helping unsheltered residents connect with services and keeping public spaces clean and safe.
The mayor is requesting money to beef up the downtown ambassador program, add social workers to medical response teams, and provide tenant relocation services for those facing gentrification-fueled displacement.
“The practicality of increasing these investments only amplifies the need to also strengthen our relationships with county and state partners,” Mendenhall said, “to identify much-needed, long-term solutions to include additional shelter space, sufficient winter overflow plans, and the development of mental health and addiction treatment services.”
No new property tax increases
Mendenhall’s budget does not include a property tax increase. However, a preplanned public utilities rate increase for water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure will raise bills by about $10 a month for low-volume water users.
Other requests in the mayor’s budget include:
• $10.2 million for transportation projects such as urban trails, traffic circle construction and traffic light replacements.
• $10.3 million for sidewalks, alleyway improvements, maintenance and concrete work.
• A 5% cost-of-living adjustment for nonrepresented employees and market-rate adjustments for jobs that are currently paid below market wages.
• Creation of a program that reimburses employees up to $500 a year for quality-of-life expenses, such as ski passes, financial advisers and closing costs when buying a home.
• 115 new full-time positions to carry out a variety of city services.
• Funding to bring more activity and city staffers to the Ballpark neighborhood to help prepare for a future without the Salt Lake Bees.
“We all share the excitement in this electric atmosphere that’s around our city right now, and the infinite possibilities that lie ahead,” Mendenhall said. “We are on the right track. Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the Olympics and the year-round benefits our residents can gain from these opportunities are knocking at our door. While we may still dream of what that future looks like exactly, I’ve never been more confident in the strength of our city than I am today.”